At a crucial juncture
Rising India needs to resolve social injustices that fetter development
Sixty years of freedom and India has been placed at a crucial historical juncture. The changes that have befallen her, especially economically, have thrust her directly into the vision of the rest of the world and now the major nations are beginning to take note of a country that seems to be constantly climbing the ladder of development. This should come as no surprise given the potential that India contains for development — a young population with an ambitious work
ethic harvesting a land ripe with valuable resources.
However, while economic progress has been and will inevitably continue to be essential to India’s aspiration of becoming a fully developed nation, such a goal will forever remain unrealised unless attention is turned towards key social issues that are equally as important as economics. If not addressed, these issues will continue to act as fetters on the nation’s development, keeping her forever confined to the position of a ‘developing country.’ Sixty years of independence is not just a time to celebrate what our country has been — it is also a time for us to realise the changes that need to be instigated to make her the country that she should be.
The striking and unacceptable fact, though, is that nearly a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. With so many still suffering from basic living struggles, India stands a long way from turning her developmental potential into an actuality — the ideal of a developed nation at the moment continues to look like a distant aspiration. It is time now for those who have benefited most from the last 60 years to take on the imperative of responsibility that freedom demands and turn their attention to the poverty that plagues the people of India. The government alongside the flourishing private sector must begin to exert the power that they have gained over the years by finally delivering on the policies that they have promised to those suffering, while the press must become a voice to those without one and not be afraid to highlight social deficiencies stifling India’s developmental status.
Attention and action, therefore, need to be focussed on the fabric that makes up Indian society. High quality education must be made available to as much of the public as possible, in order to produce a relevantly skilled workforce that will provide the backbone for future development. Given the importance of education, it is sad that in India nearly 30 per cent of children do not receive any primary education at all. This is quite simply unacceptable as it means that many lack skills as basic as reading and writing, never mind those necessary for employment. For a country that seeks to be considered as developed, this needs to change.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Indian education system has seven million students attending institutes of higher education, making the country second to only the United States of America. However, when the population of India is taken into account, only a small percentage is actually in higher education (this is to some degree not surprising given the lack of children with a primary education). In comparison with other countries, this is appalling, as it even falls short of the 7 per cent average for developing nations, not to mention the 47 per cent average for developed nations.
Education is a necessity for all and not just a luxury for those who can afford it. Therefore, it must be a top concern for India as she ventures into the future, since without a solid educational spine, her economy will no longer be able to stand the test of time.
Yet as valuable as education is to a country’s development, there is much less use to excellent schooling if health problems still afflict the population. While there are some excellent hospitals in India, they are accessible only to a select few, as the private healthcare system disentitles a large number of people from effective treatment. As a result, the population still struggles with illnesses that, given modern medicine, should no longer present a problem. This means that individual productivity is unnecessarily reduced and consequently the productive capacities of the whole nation are severely limited. If India is ever to become fully developed, serious attention needs to be paid to the general health of the entire population and not just of small segments of society.
While there is segmentation between rich and poor, it is arguably more of a surprise to continue to see segmentation between men and women. Although there have been women who have done extremely well, achieving the prime ministership, ministerships, and now the presidency, large numbers of the female population are still subjected to abusive and derogatory treatment.
These misogynistic tendencies are only emphasised by the fate of female foetuses, as many are terminated before birth, highlighting the overtly sexist elements of Indian society. This mentality not only alienates women but physically prevents women from contributing to the development of the nation — a contribution that could only add to the dynamism of progress that is flowing throughout the country. The empowerment of women is, therefore, a necessity that needs to be embedded in the ideology of the people, and not simply alluded to in propagandistic policies, if the nation is truly to recognise its potential.
As India matures, so must its ideologies. Our attention must turn towards society and the way the people of India live. The underlying segregations that cut through essential aspects of the social fabric in which Indian people operate must be eradicated. No longer must the poor be neglected, as the rich benefit from the best education and health care. No longer must women be excluded from the changes the male part of society finds itself flourishing in. Economic progress is of course necessary to thrust India into the framework of developed nations, but economic progress is ultimately impossible without humans. It is time for India, at 60 years free, to realise the invaluable role of humans and act to resolve these social injustices that will only serve to hold her back from actualising her true potential as a developed nation.
Lastly, India must tackle the problem of corruption. I know there is a great deal of corruption in many countries of the world – including the developed ones. In fact, this is an issue I raised in a debate on Aid and Corruption in the House of Lords two years ago:
Lord Paul: My Lords, very good measures are taken in corrupt countries but most of the corruption money originates from aid-giving countries. What measures will the Government take to ensure that that does not happen?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, we have supported European and U.N. anti-fraud and corruption initiatives, which, in particular, put stress on ensuring that United Kingdom companies, for example, are not engaged in corrupt practices in developing countries. There has been an issue in that we have not got to the stage where there have been prosecutions under that legislation, but it can be used where examples are brought to the attention of the relevant authorities.
In my view, India should make a very strong effort to eradicate corruption in the country and also take a lead in the world on this issue. This will enhance India’s responsibility to the world community.
Lord Paul of Marylebone is founder and chairman of the Caparo Group, philanthropist, and a member of the House of Lords. He is Chancellor of two U.K. universities.
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